Saturday, May 03, 2008

where do you want to go today?

Title: Changing Planes
Author: Ursula K. LeGuin
Bookmark: train ticket to London

Recently I started spending more time with a big LeGuin fan. I thought it might be worth seeing what all the fuss was about, so I went to the L section of the library and found individual volumes from her more well-known series (though not the whole set) and a couple odd cast-offs. I chose this one because it had a naked woman on the cover--admittedly, she was half corn--and the jacket hinted at it being connected to the boredom of airports, and at the time I checked out, I had a lot of that in my future.

Sita Dulip figured out a way to slip between "planes" (apparently similar to our idea of parallel worlds, but not direct Earth analogs) and told her friends. One of those friends is our narrator. Each chapter discusses the culture and people of a different plane.

Some of the planes are obvious parables about human follies and nature. Some are just tidy little stories on their own. Overall, it's what a lot of people refer to as a "beach book." Great to have with you when you need a gentle distraction, and don't want to get really involved in what you're reading. This worked out well for me when I started it (on the aforementioned train, just after finishing another book), and between the airports and planes that day, I got through over two-thirds of the book without realizing or trying. Plus I watched three movies (long flight).

This is one of LeGuin's more recent works, and I'm willing to give her a lot of leeway for that. Fact is, I wasn't impressed. Her planes are very imaginative, but they're almost all imaginative in the same way. Pick one personality trait, expand it to a culture, and apply evenly to all inhabitants. Almost all of her planes are less technologically advanced than our own, though one was apparently equal to or greater than us technologically until some great unspecified cataclysm, and the culture in each one is homogeneous. Granted, this is a flaw common to a lot of sci-fi (LeGuin is mainly known as a fantasy author--it's hard to say into which camp this falls), but even the Ferengi have scientists.

It's a good read when you don't have much time or attention to devote to it, but don't expect to feel involved. Each chapter stands on its own--and the end of each chapter is a good stopping place.

(note: the narrator's home plane doesn't quite seem to be our own. There are small hints to this throughout the chapters, though she refers to several cities in our plane, but closes by talking about her flight to Los Engeles.)

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posted by reyn at 11:30 PM


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